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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Celebrating America’s Greatest Holiday

Karal Ann Marling

ISBN 9780674006799

Publication date: 12/20/2001

It wouldn't be Christmas without the "things." How they came to mean so much, and to play such a prominent role in America's central holiday, is the tale told in this delightful and edifying book. In a style characteristically engaging and erudite, Karal Ann Marling, one of our most trenchant observers of American culture, describes the outsize spectacle that Christmas has become, showing us the provenance and significance of each of its essential parts: the decorated trees and holiday lights, the cards and gifts and wrapping papers, the toy villages and store displays and Macy's holiday parade, Bing Crosby and Santa Claus.

Viewing Christmas through the media of mass culture--engravings and lithographs, magazine fiction, pictorial ads, news photos, cards, and movies--Marling tells us how the beloved Christmas tree grew out of a much-reprinted image of Queen Victoria and her family gathered around a decorated fir; how Santa Claus lost his provincial Dutch character and turned into the jolly old soul we know; how Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol borrowed from Washington Irving's imaginings of what Christmas must have been like in Merrie Olde England; and how the holiday, balancing between the private and public realms, conferred a central and defining role on women.

A celebration of the visual culture of the season, Merry Christmas! offers captivating evidence that Christmas in America is primarily a secular celebration of abundance, goodwill, and familial identity, expressed in a multitude of material ways.


  • This book is a thoroughly engaging and eye-opening tale of how a religious celebration came to be secularized and, more important, nationalized in the United States. Discerning in her choice of examples, gymnastic in her leaps from subject to subject, Marling here demonstrates again her fine interdisciplinary skills. Moreover, she does so in a style mercifully free of cant and academic jargon. Marling has filled the Christmas stocking with a winning combination of detail and interpretation, and has made the season merrier for it.

    —Charles C. Eldredge, author of Georgia O'Keeffe and former director of the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution


  • Karal Ann Marling is Professor of Art History at the University of Minnesota.

Book Details

  • 464 pages
  • 1-1/4 x 6-3/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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